Response to creative thinking and the ghost of instant gratification

May 2018

Recently I read an article (link below) which motivated me to say something about. Especially this sentence - comparing the different taught art-subjects with music education - triggered me: “In addition, parents of young artists, drama students, and poets see the result almost immediately of their children’s art making in the hallways of schools, refrigerator doors at home, and school assemblies.” 

Two things: why should parents see immediate results? And no-one just  makes art. Bold statement. I know. My point is that Rembrandt (and Mozart and Prokofiev), Turner and Pollock did not make art. Through time, in their own time, considering setting and cultural historical surroundings it became art. Or not. If we consider every expression or attempt or (educational) work art, then everything is art and art itself stops to exist because any criterium, any distinction, and as a result a curriculum to teach what is needed, is superflous. There is a considerable difference between self-expression, artistic expression and art. Or at least I think there should be. Complaining about the deplorable state of music education when self-expression has been emphasised too much and teachers have not been given the right tools to teach well does not help. And why should parents see immediate results? Why has any length of time investment, patience, the delay of gratification become a challenge?


The article says that “music students go for a long time even years without the opportunity to perform music of their own.” There are two points of interest in this sentence: why should you perform music of your own and why should you write/make your own music? My point is that it should not be about your own music, this does not logically imply however that you should not create your own music. Learning to write music, to make a painting, to write poetry, etc. takes a long time. This process needs to be appreciated. Parents and teachers should make an effort to make this clear. Indeed an educational task (Biesta, 2018). 


Something I saw in my preschool music education lessons. After every turn of a song or every well-timed moment with a duck or not well-timed, or even every action, there were children who started shouting yeeee! immediately afterwards and they and often their parents too clapped their hands with force. This is something that has been taught in daycare centres. To be positive, to reward every single thing children do or say, no matter how small. To install self-confidence, to promote self-expression. To make children the centre of their own universe without any reflection on themselves or others. No attention curve and devoid of the so necessary appreciation of time, appreciation of duration to arrive at something that might have some longer lasting meaning than the refrigerator. And no appreciation of the work of others. Of the other’s time investment. The clapping is only for one-self. However, recently I have not seen this anymore, which is good.


The article also says: “For example the study of music theory wedded intimately with personal composition and improvisation might lead to more effective understanding of theory.” Here I am sort of flabbergasted. Because this is really old school, so to read this as being new to replace outmoded teaching is amazing. In short: I think this is how it should be. This is how I was taught. With one difference though. Where it goes in an undesirable direction in my view is ‘personal’ composition. Why personal? We had composition. We were taught, experimenting, following and bending the rules. And our work when a bit acceptable was performed in the group. Why again here this oppressive urge to self-expression, to have something of one’s own: by definition? Why the constant attention to the musical me instead of the musical we? 


No-one better than Gert Biesta can express how we could relate to this matter. The importance of a grown-up attitude towards our personal freedom. In the present case our musical freedom. Freedom is not just do what you want to do. “Grown-up freedom is the consideration of whether what you want to do or what you need to do is going to help with good living together. Therefore it is necessary for our initiatives to be 'in dialogue' with the world: with what is other, to arrive at a degree of self-limiting; to let yourself be told something by the world outside yourself (see Van Praag 1950, page 49)” (Biesta, 2017).


And a last quote from the article: “Music is rarely shared with the community other than in the school concert halls and largely only to the parents of those participating. Music teachers generally do not see their roles as leaders in community music engagement.” Again this word leader. I see it pop up everywhere. Leader. Besides the fact that apparently no one has asked for these ‘leaders’, self-appointed leadership based on something that apparently a community might need according to someone is a display of too much self confidence. Music teachers do not have a designated role in community music engagement. That is not to say that they can or should do nothing. On the contrary. What they can do when motivated and in possession of certain skills that might help promote music education in their community is trying to create opportunities for the community depending on an inner conviction that it might do some (musical) good and hopefully the community responds: from their own free will. Also, the community is not a refrigerator where ever single musical utterance, immediately should be exposed to.


I love Thumper. My favourite rabbit. Though his lovely words have been taken to the utmost extreme: “Look what I can do!” But there is hope: his mum is very wise.



Article: “https://www.isme.org/news/rethinking-music-education-encouraging-creative-thinking-sound-across-all-musical-experiences


Biesta, G. (2018). Tijd voor pedagogiek. Over de pedagogische

paragraaf in onderwijs, opleiding en vorming. Inaugurele rede. Universiteit voor Humanistiek, Utrecht. 


Biesta, G.J.J. (2017). The rediscovery of teaching: Progressive arguments for a conservative idea. New York/London: Routledge.